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Some Penn Nursing students have clinical rotations at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Credit: Serena Jankovic

While recent developments including moving classes online for the rest of the semester prompted strong student reaction, the announcement hit Nursing students especially hard due to the hands-on nature of their courses and clinical work.

Clinical rotations offer Nursing students first-hand experience interacting with patients in hospitals including Penn Medicine facilities. With all clinical rotations canceled until further notice, Penn Nursing students are concerned about how to compensate for the lost hours and whether they will be able to log enough hours to graduate on time.

Nursing seniors said they worry that canceling clinical rotations for any period of time could prevent them from reaching the state mandate to receive Nursing licensure in Pennsylvania and graduate in May. Sophomores and juniors raised concerns over how to balance two clinical rotations at once next semester after School of Nursing Dean Antonia Villarruel wrote in an email to the Penn Nursing community on Thursday night that sophomores and juniors will have to make up clinical hours in fall 2020.

First-years enrolled in NURS 102 Situating the Practice of Nursing in which students gain observational experience will have their clinical observations replaced with an online alternative, according to an email sent from Villarruel to the Penn Nursing community. 

President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett previously announced in an email to the Penn community on March 11 that some Nursing students would continue their clinical rotations.

Nursing students received an email from Villarruel on Wednesday evening which read that the School of Nursing would focus on helping May 2020 and August 2020 graduates fulfill their necessary clinical hours.

Nursing senior Jessica Andrews said that nursing students must complete a certain number of clinical hours in order to graduate and take the NCLEX, an exam nursing school graduates must pass to receive Nursing licensure. Lacking clinical hours could impact their graduation date and career trajectory, she said.

Nursing senior Meredith Pinheiro said she is upset by the complications that have arisen from canceling senior clinical rotations for the time-being and likened the recent developments to a "bad dream."

Pinheiro added that she is not confident Penn Nursing will be able to secure enough clinical spaces for seniors to catch up on their hours in time for graduation in May.

Penn Medicine Nurse Practitioner and Penn Nursing lecturer Christine Reger wrote in an email to all Nursing seniors on Thursday night that while spring break was extended to March 23, Penn Nursing highly recommends students with clinical placements at Penn Medicine return a week earlier to log as many clinical hours as possible.

Andrews said she had planned to return one week early from spring break on March 16 to continue her clinical rotation at Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania before Penn Nursing announced on March 13 that all clinical sites were canceled until further notice.

Pediatric Nursing assistant professor Sharon Irving wrote in an email to students enrolled in NURS 225 Pediatric Nursing, the clinical course juniors take in the second half of spring semester, on Friday morning that the clinical component of the class was canceled for the semester due to uncertainties on when clinical sites will reopen. Didactic and simulation components will be delivered through remote learning, she wrote.

Nursing junior Tess Doran, who is enrolled in NURS 225, said she would have liked to remain on campus after spring break and complete her clinical rotations despite fears of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I think that there are valuable things to learn from being in the healthcare system at this moment in time, so I would prefer being in a clinical setting just so that I can learn the most that I can and I can take this information and this experience moving forward as a nurse,” Doran said.

Doran added that she does not feel comfortable making her schedule for fall 2020, because she does not know when her make-up clinical hours will be.

Nursing sophomore Hannah Pinheiro said the added clinical hours she will have to make up next semester will coincide with courses NURS 245 Nursing of Young and Middle Aged Adults and NURS 255 Nursing of Older Adults, which she described as the “hardest and most difficult” courses nursing students are required to take.

Both NURS 245 and NURS 255 each require 12 hours of clinical experience and 2 hours of simulated laboratory each week.

Students also expressed concern that online learning will not provide them with the same skills and education that hands-on simulation labs and clinical rotations would.

Nursing first-year Kelsey Greco said that for first year students, an online alternative to clinical observations will not allow her to learn as much as an in-person observation.

“I find it hard to believe that I’m going to receive the same education online, than if we had it in person,” Hannah Pinheiro said.